rethinking christmas

In the days leading up to and following Christmas Brooke and I have had several conversations regarding the observance (or at least the traditional Western observance) of this holiday. The basic gist of these conversations is that we don’t like it. We have talked through how we might approach Christmas if and when we have children.

We have been in agreement since before we were married that we would never teach our children to believe in Santa Claus. This isn’t because we want to be stingy grinch-ish parents. We would never push other parents not to indulge their children in the fable of the jolly fat man. However, to us it seems a bit dangerous to encourage our children to believe in and have faith in an imaginary being. I realize that for almost everyone this is just a bit of well-intended fun but just because it’s fun doesn’t mean that it’s healthy for the development of children. In a sense, aren’t we teaching our children that belief in people you can’t see, and who are said to perform miraculous feats, is something you can cling to while young and naïve but it should ultimately be outgrown? How much of a leap would it be for a generation of former Claus followers to determine that Jesus is just a grown-up version of Santa? How much of a leap would this be since we hear more about Santa than Jesus during the holiday that supposedly celebrates the birth of Jesus?

My other issue with the whole Santa enterprise is that children (and all too often, adults) are being encouraged to behave properly because of what it will get them. I don’t have children, but when I do I want them to obey me because they love me not because they want to get something from me (or Santa). God wants us to act properly because we love him and because it is the truly human way to act. I also don’t want my children to think that if they are naughty I won’t love them anymore or that I will withhold the gifts of my love. I am a person who is naughty instead of nice everyday. In spite of this God forgives me, accepts me, and lavishes me with his love. I want my children to know that God and I love them in the midst of their most broken, rebellious, naughty moments.

Though I have other issues with him, I’ll leave Santa alone for now. Ultimately I think he is merely the observable symptom of a larger disease that has infected our observance of Christmas. The celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th came about in an attempt to supplant pagan celebrations on or around the same day. In our times a more virulent form of idolatry has supplanted the Christian observance of Christmas. It seems to me that the god most worshiped on December 25th is the Western deity named Materialism. Brooke and I have both lamented our allegiance to this false god. Though we have tried to leave the church of greed we have found it difficult since the rites and rituals of this faith have been inculcated in us since our youth.

Brooke and I are wrestling with all of this and are struggling to determine what a faithful yet gracious response should be. It is almost certain that Jesus was not born anywhere near December 25th and even if he were there is no biblical command to set apart a holy-day in order to observe his birth. Part of the difficulty in responding to what we perceive as problems with Christmas is that we don’t want to alienate friends and family members who like the present form of Christmas. We also don’t want to suggest that there is anything wrong with exchanging gifts. So how should we proceed?

We’ve talked about the possibility of only giving one gift or just not practicing gift-giving on Christmas. Some friends of ours have mentioned the idea of giving their children three gifts because Jesus received three gifts from the wise men. We’ve discussed the idea of asking relatives to put any money they would spend on presents into a college fund for our children. We could observe December 25th as Annual Present Day and simply celebrate Christmas on another day. We could continue with Christmas the way it is and just try to add in more time for teaching, thought, and reflection on the birth of Christ. The only thing that’s not an option is ignoring our conscience on this issue.

I put this blog post up with much fear and trembling. I tremble not only because I realize I have probably not communicated as clearly as I would have liked in this long post but also because I realize how easy it would be to misconstrue these words as the ramblings of a miserly joy-killer or as the ultimate bah-humbug. They are not intended to be so. As a Christian I believe the birth of Jesus is one of the greatest causes for celebration. Too many Christians have promoted and accepted a view of Christian faith that is overly somber, bland, desiccated and lifeless and I would hate for our thoughts on Christmas to reflect this view of Christianity. Wherever we end up on this issue I would hope that our observance of Christmas would promote and inspire more joy, more of a giving mindset, more goodwill, and a more vibrant love in our own lives and in the lives of all those who celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I would really like to hear all of your thoughts on this issue. So please, let the comments begin.


video clips and late night travel

If you look under my New Zealand links section you'll see that I finally added a link to some of the video clips we took while in New Zealand. I have a few more to upload but these are a good start for any of you who are interested.

It's about 10:20 PM Friday night and Brooke and I are preparing to head up to Michigan for the holidays. We have decided to leave in about an hour and just drive through the night instead of dealing with all of the traffic tomorrow. That's the reason this is such a short post. I'm about to go take a power nap then make some coffee and jump in the car.

I probably won't post again until after Monday so, Merry Christmas!


umm... still adjusting

Okay so I've totally been meaning to blog more about our transition back to the U.S. but I've been really wiped out physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Transitioning back has been much more difficult for me than for my lovely wife.

Last night I hung out with several of the guys who were in the youth group last year. They have just finished their first semester of college so it was good to see them again and hear their thoughts on college life with its ups and downs. We'd played Risk until about 2:00 in the morning. When we finished I dropped one of the guys off back at his place and then began driving back to the Walker's where we are living. As I was driving I looked in my rear-view mirror and saw some idiot coming up behind me but in the wrong lane. All of the sudden it dawned on me that I was the idiot. I was totally driving in the left lane as if I were back in New Zealand!!! I quickly corrected my error hoping that the guy coming up behind me wasn't a cop. Fortunately it wasn't a cop car but the driver must have thought I was completely hammered.

Anyway, one of the things I've been doing is uploading small video clips from New Zealand. My hope is to have all these up in the next couple of days. When they are up I'll put a link on the blog so anyone who wants to check them out can. In the meantime, here's another humorous commercial from the land of the Kiwis. To properly understand it you need to know that Kiwis call swimming suits "togs." Enjoy.



I've been meaning to put up a new post for the past several days and just haven't. I was planning on catching everyone up on our final few days in Auckland but I think Brooke has pretty much covered that topic in her blog so I won't repeat the same information here.

"Adjustment" is a good one word description of our time back in the States so far. We are adjusting to the 17 hour time difference and recovering from jet-lag. We are also adjusting to the fact that it's winter here. I was at the beach swimming in the Tasman Sea one week ago. The day we left Auckland it was somewhere around 85 degrees, sunny and beautiful. We arrived to cold weather and snow. I generally like cold weather and enjoy winter more than most people. However, when you go from summer to winter in a matter of hours instead of experiencing the natural transition of autumn it can be quite a shock.

Besides all the physical adjustment to space, time and season we are also wrestling with mental and emotional adjustment as well. We have definitely experienced some reverse culture-shock in the few days we've been back. Nothing major, but definitely noticeable. The emotional adjustment is in trying to figure out where we fit. It's great seeing everyone again but a lot has happened in the last three months that we can't adequately communicate with words. I'm sure others feel the same way about how life has been for them while we've been gone. There's mental and emotional adjustment in trying to figure out what in the world life is going to look like for us over the next year or so. As of now that's pretty much a big question mark.

I guess all I'm trying to say is that while it's good to be back, it's weird as well.


safe and sound

We have made it back to the big STL. Our plane landed here around 10:40PM, Wednesday December 6. This is pretty funky considering the fact that our plane left Auckland at 11:00PM, Wednesday December 6. I'll let you do the math. Anyway, we made it without any major hassles. The only bad thing is that while Brooke got like 7 hours of sleep on our first flight I only got somewhere between 1 and 2. This was somewhat intentional since I wanted to be able to sleep once we got back to St. Louis. So yeah, that's pretty much what I'm going to do right now because I'm completely zoned out.

I'll put up some pics of our last few days in New Zealand over the next couple of days.


last sunday

Today was our last Sunday in New Zealand. It's kind of weird how things are winding down to a close here. I preached at Providence Presbyterian Church this morning. This was a great experience since Providence is very different from most of the other churches I've spoken at while here. The members of Providence are mainly polynesian. Samoan, Maori, Tongan, Rarotongan as well as some other ethnicities. Pacific Islander's are some of the warmest and friendliest people you will ever meet and we have have enjoyed getting to know a few polynesian families.

We went straight from church back to the house we've been staying in where most of the folks from Redeemer (the church we've prinarily been working with) were throwing us a farewell lunch. We had a great time hanging out with these people who have become our friends over the last few months. We had a chance to say goodbye and to discuss our thougts about the future.

After a nice Sunday afternoon nap we went to our last worship service at Redeemer. Then we decided to head back out to Piha beach one last time before we left. Several of the Redeemer folks joined us and we had a great time jumping around in the waves. That might not sound too exciting but this sign should explain why jumping around in the waves is the highest level of aquatic activity I want to engage in at this particular beach.

This was a great way to end our last Sunday in the land of the long white cloud.


favorite things, pt. 3

Okay, here's the third and final installment of my favorite New Zealand things. I've mentioned L&P several times so I figured I should definitely include it on the list of favorites. L&P stands for Lemon and Paeroa. It's a combination of lemon juice and mineral water (originally from the town of Paeroa). The first time I tried L&P I wasn't sure what I thought of it but I thought it was good enough to try again. After I "tried" it several more times I realized that I must really like it. It has a pretty unique flavor but could be compared to Ginger Beer.

Another thing I love about New Zealand is the fact that there is an Indian restaurant on almost every corner. I'm a new comer to the joys of Indian food. I first tried it last January when we were in London and was instantly hooked. I still haven't had any Indian food that compares to what I had in London but Punjabi Dhaba is a close second. The chicken curry is fabulous. We're planning on having dinner there before we fly home Wednesday. It's oh so good.

Another thing we both like about New Zealand is the money. The money system here makes so much more sense. Okay, I totally avoided a pun there. Anyway, the smallest bill that they have is a $5 note. They have a $2 and $1 coin which I really like. Brooke was saying that she read something the other day that said the U.S. would save about $35,000 a year if we converted to a $1 coin instead of using a paper note. The reason we haven't made the switch is because Americans are so stuck in their ways. Many countries have already made this type of switch but the U.S. is way behind. The smallest coin they have here is a 10 cent piece. Yes, that means no pennies. They use the Swedish rounding system which means... well it means a couple of things but the best thing in my opinion is that you never see prices like $4.99, $28.99, or anything .99 which is great. Um, the coins have cool Maori designs too.

The last thing to put on my list of my favorites is the people. We have been privileged to meet some really great folks over here and have been the recipients of much warm-hearted hospitality. We have hopefully started what will be long friendships with people here. We are looking forward to seeing family and friends back home but several here will be missed.